New algorithm predicts treatment targets for cancer using 'wisdom of the crowd'

January 3, 2018, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore
New algorithm predicts treatment targets for cancer using ‘wisdom of the crowd’
Workflow for the ConsensusDriver system in analysing patient tumours and identifying target treatments. Credit: A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore

Scientists in Singapore have made a unique discovery about how to treat cancers – when it comes to pinpointing cancer treatment targets, it is better to listen to many computer programmes rather than just one. Researchers have developed an advanced system that integrates this 'wisdom of the crowd' through a powerful consensus algorithm to isolate the Achilles heel of each individual cancer tumour, helping scientists to better study different cancers and identify targeted treatments.

Cancer cells have thousands of genetic lesions but only a handful of these mutations give rise to a tumour. Identifying the 'driver' mutations that promote the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells in the body is a key challenge for the emerging field of precision oncology. This is the first time that scientists have identified a consensus algorithm that integrates various expert systems into a single accurate prediction for treatment targets in individual cancers.

To develop this system, researchers analysed data from more than 3,000 tumours, across 15 different cancer types including colon, breast, lung, stomach and liver cancer. They studied 18 different existing algorithms and found that each one of them on its own could not identify driver mutations in a significant proportion of patients. Furthermore, no single method was able to identify treatable drivers in more than 60 percent of patients. By noting that the methods had very different strengths and by combining them, the new system, known as ConsensusDriver, was able to identify treatment targets in nearly all patients studied, 80 percent of whom could be treated with existing drugs.

This work, recently published in Cancer Research, was jointly led by Dr. Denis Bertrand and Professor Niranjan Nagarajan from A*STAR's Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), and included researchers from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) and the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide and was responsible for 8.8 million deaths in 2015, and an estimated global economic impact of approximately US$ 1.16 trillion in 20101. Over the years, breakthroughs in DNA sequencing technologies have allowed researchers to determine the complete genetic makeup of cancers. The challenge now lies in crunching massive datasets to understand the unique genetic basis of an individual's disease. Researchers around the world and in Singapore are now racing to develop new computer algorithms, and participate in large collaborative projects such as The Cancer Genome Atlas.

Dr. Denis Bertrand, Staff Scientist at GIS and lead author of this work said, "Developing ConsensusDriver and working with The Cancer Genome Atlas has been an eye-opening experience. This is collaborative science on an international scale and we are making rapid advances in being able to give the right drug to the right patient at the right time."

Professor Nagarajan, Associate Director and Senior Group Leader at GIS, noted, "It is remarkable that computer algorithms have become a new weapon in the battle against cancer. Instead of clubbing with drugs indiscriminately, we are now trying to computationally pinpoint genetic weaknesses to target them with drugs more precisely."

GIS Executive Director Professor Ng Huck Hui said, "The complexity of genetics is one of the biggest challenges that we face in treating it. By precisely identifying actionable mutations, and tailoring treatments to individuals, we are moving a step closer to precision medicine. I am delighted to note the ongoing development of new algorithms and technologies by GIS scientists to achieve this vision."

Explore further: Researchers develop expert systems for identifying treatment targets for cancer and rare diseases

Related Stories

Researchers develop expert systems for identifying treatment targets for cancer and rare diseases

February 13, 2015
In recent months, several national initiatives for personalized medicine have been announced, including the recently launched precision medicine initiative in the US, driven by rapid advances in genomic technologies and with ...

Mutant gene network in colon cancer identified

November 10, 2017
The principles of the gene network for colon tumorigenesis have been identified by a KAIST research team. The principles will be used to find the molecular target for effective anti-cancer drugs in the future. Further, this ...

From thousands of suspects, researchers ferret out cancer-causing genes

August 14, 2017
A Yale-led team of researchers has identified specific gene combinations that can cause deadly brain cancer glioblastoma, using new technology that can also pinpoint triggers of other types cancers, they report Aug. 14 in ...

Immunotherapy treatment option for selected breast cancer patients, genetic study suggests

September 13, 2017
Immunotherapy drugs could help some breast cancer patients based on the genetic changes in their tumours, researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and their collaborators find. Published today (13 September) in ...

One to 10 mutations are needed to drive cancer, scientists find

October 19, 2017
For the first time, scientists have provided unbiased estimates of the number of mutations needed for cancers to develop, in a study of more than 7,500 tumours across 29 cancer types. Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger ...

Comparing algorithms that search for cancer mutations

July 17, 2017
Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) has undertaken the first-ever comparative analysis of a newly emerging category of algorithms that mine genetic information in cancer databases by focusing on internal ...

Recommended for you

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

January 18, 2018
Cancer metastasis, the migration of cells from a primary tumor to form distant tumors in the body, can be triggered by a chronic leakage of DNA within tumor cells, according to a team led by Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial ...

Modular gene enhancer promotes leukemia and regulates effectiveness of chemotherapy

January 18, 2018
Every day, billions of new blood cells are generated in the bone marrow. The gene Myc is known to play an important role in this process, and is also known to play a role in cancer. Scientists from the German Cancer Research ...

These foods may up your odds for colon cancer

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—Chowing down on red meat, white bread and sugar-laden drinks might increase your long-term risk of colon cancer, a new study suggests.

The pill lowers ovarian cancer risk, even for smokers

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—It's known that use of the birth control pill is tied to lower odds for ovarian cancer, but new research shows the benefit extends to smokers or women who are obese.

Researchers develop swallowable test to detect pre-cancerous Barrett's esophagus

January 17, 2018
Investigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center have developed a simple, swallowable test for early detection of Barrett's esophagus that offers promise ...

Scientists zoom in to watch DNA code being read

January 17, 2018
Scientists have unveiled incredible images of how the DNA code is read and interpreted—revealing new detail about one of the fundamental processes of life.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.